With great car ownership comes great responsibility

Your car is an extension of yourself, like a tattoo, or a dog, or a giant novelty foam finger. How many times have you judged somebody based on their car? A hot red convertible speeds by, you go “Hmm, midlife crisis-mobile.” Minivans are the mobile domicile of the Momius Soccerus. Giant conversion vans with blacked-out windows are murderers.

Cars certainly did a lot for the Mahoning Valley. As much as they curse us with breakdowns, eat our money with their combustion engines, and run us over because they are possessed by evil spirits (well, just in Stephen King novels), cars are man’s best manmade friend. While some people select cars based on silly things like price, there should be much more that goes into your car sidekick.

For the love of Mike, pick a car that makes sense for Ohio. I wrote a column (“An ode to trusty automobile steeds of winters past”) listing all the cars that I have loved and lost, and in it I chide my brother for buying a Mustang … in Ohio where it snows. As we saw last week, selecting a good winter car is a skill every Northeast Ohioan must have. I see people fishtailing in cars that would make good paperweights. To surmount ice, snow, garbage, mud, water and other Ohio-y obstacles, you must pick a car that doesn’t make you think “meep meep.”

Once you pick your car buddy for the next 60 months (or 100,000 miles), you need to know how to treat it. Too often, I have had to show boys how to use jumper cables, or change a tire. Sure, boys often feign the Bill Cosby tactic of “play dumb so I forgo this chore for life.” But isn’t a few minutes of manual labor with saving your man cred? I recently showed a friend with a math degree the difference between the positive and negative contacts on the car battery. GIANT PLUS SIGN. Surely you’ve seen a few of those in your life, right?

Changing a tire is one of those things that makes you feel accomplished, virile, muddy. Emergency happens! You have the tools! You save the day! That feeling is worth reading a few manuals. Just be careful, all those stories about someone developing superhuman strength to lift a car off of someone can’t be true. Also, reward you car once in awhile with premium octane and Armor-All. It will make up for the three hoodies, sneakers and pile of old cassette tapes floating around the interior.

Once you master simple car maintenance, you move on to finer things, like selecting good bumper stickers. First, make sure they are all true. You have to actually have an honor student, or own a Bichon Frise. A nice smattering of local-themed stickers are always good, so passers-by see them and go “I too got hammered at Handyman Hardware!” Keep it light. Causes are fine, but no one wants to break down in tears at a red light. Also, nobody cares that you’ve been to the Outer Banks. And your stick-figure family is sooo last year. Unless it’s a meta-stick-figure family made up of characters from “Downton Abbey” or something. Give your car a personality, not headlight eyelashes.

Next, master the car stereo. Figure out your radio-to-iPod volume ratio. Make good driving mixes. Create the opportunity for good car singalong moments with your passengers. I once parked my car in an alley, put on “ABBA Gold” and had an impromptu dance party with the passengers. The car wanted to throw itself off a cliff.

Next, becoming a snow-driving warrior. Learn the tender touch of the gas and brake pedals. Show finesse with the gentle easing of a wheel from a snowbank. Approach each intersection with cool calculation. Carry a carpet and a bag of rock salt everywhere. Don’t abuse the heater. Buy the mother of all ice scrapers.

Create moments with your car. Plow it through fields like a horse charging the enemy. Use its light to camp by as you lie out under the stars. Go parking in the parking lot of Bob Karl’s Auto Wrecking with your high-school boyfriend (sorry, Bob Karl). Just don’t take your Corvette out in a blizzard and try to peel out through six feet of snow. That’s why the snow gods invented all-wheel drive.

How do you take care of your car? Share winter road tips with me at ssepanek@tribtoday.com, or comment on this story at www.tribtoday.com.